Romance continues – even when you’re dead.
Researchers have found a Renaissance man had his heart removed after he died and buried with his beloved wife.
Toussaint de Perrien, who passed on 30 August 1649 had his heart put in an urn and buried with his wife – who was laid to rest 125 miles away. The body of his wife, Louise de Quengo, had been opened after death and her heart removed, perhaps to rest with her significant (though it has not been found).
The heart swap burials are believed to have permitted ‘for couples to be reunited in death’.
De Quengo died in 1656 at age 65, 7 years after her husband’s death, according to inscriptions on her tomb.
The couple were not the only ones in this time period to undergo postmortem heart removal: An investigation of 483 complete skeletons and 5,940 partial skeletons at the convent where de Quengo was buried Discovered that 18 of the bodies and 17 of the partial remains showed signs of abdomens or skulls opened after death, with some hearts removed. Besides Toussaint’s, the convent also contained three other lead urns holding hearts.
The convent at Rennes
The discoveries raise questions about medieval European funerary ceremonies, specialists from the University of Toulouse in France wrote in the study, published in December in the journal PLOS ONE.
Scientists had thought that burial rites gradually became more secularized throughout the Middle Ages and into the modern era, but the newly analyzed bodies recommend, instead that these old practices, full of magic and religious custom, were still favored into the Renaissance, which began around 1495 in France.
Specialists analyzed bodies from the Jacobin convent in Rennes, a city that was then the parliamentary seat of Brittany.
The convent was the premier burial place for the city’s aristocracy, Rozenn Colleter, an anthropologist at the University of Toulouse and the National Institute of Preventive Archaeological Research in France, and colleagues wrote in their journal article.
Elites were buried in the convent in 2 waves, one from the 1300s to the 1400s, the other from the 1500s to the 1700s.
The examination team examined 133 bodies from the first period and found them to be mostly clergy and parishioners, in addition, a mass grave holding the remains of around 30 soldiers.
None of those bodies were embalmed. The researchers additionally examined 483 of the 1,250 bodies buried during the 2nd period. One of them was Louise de Quengo.
A church patron
Louise de Quengo was Discovered buried in a lead coffin, an expensive choice that only the wealthiest in the city would have been able to afford.
She was buried in a rough twill dress and shirt, a dark black coat and a set of veils in the style of a nun — religious clothing that would have indicated her dedication to the Jacobin Order (a Catholic religious order).
De Quengo was a church benefactor who died on March 10, 1656, according to engravings on her tomb. Her body had naturally mummified after being sealed in her lead coffin, preserving a cross-shaped incision, roughly stitched, in her chest — where her heart was removed after death. Her other organs were left intact.
Her husband’s heart was perched atop her coffin; he had died on Aug. 30, 1649. [The Science of Death: 10 Tales from the Crypt & Beyond]
There were 3 other heart urns in the convent, all found buried at the foot of a lead coffin in the church choir.
They were recorded with the names Catherine de Tournemine, Monsieur d’Artois and the son of la Boessière. They dated from 1684, 1626 and 1685, respectively. It’s possible, Colleter and her associates wrote, that these 3 people were relatives of each other or of someone buried in the convent, but because the death dates span 60 years, they may also be unrelated.
Amid the French Revolution, lead coffins and different objects were often scavenged to make bullets, the analysts wrote, so someone may have hidden the urns in the church choir to secure them.
Different bodies in the convent showed signs of embalming. 4 bodies had their chest and skull opened, with the brain and organs removed. Other remains showed signs of sawing or cutting after death.
Some of the Body in the convent may have been altered for preservation purposes; in other cases, the goal seemed to be to provide the dead with more resting places.
In the case of Louise and her husband, the specialists wrote, the removal of the hearts would have allowed the benefactors to honor more than one religious house by their burials.
Survivors of the couple would have had more places to pray over their remaining parts — an important custom because souls were thought to go to purgatory unless their relatives prayed them into heaven. Finally, the researchers wrote, there was the personal side.
The heart-swapped burials allowed “for couples to be reunited in death,” they wrote, “a phenomenon that had until now not been noted.”